Our first and only holiday of 2020 was at the end of September to Wales to stay in the Brecon Beacons for 3 nights and then to explore the best of Pembrokeshire for 7 nights. At any other time, we would have been jetting off to far-shores but this year was all about enjoying a “staycation” and rediscovering the beauty of the UK.
The last time I had visited Wales, it was to Snowdonia in the North. This time we had chosen to visit South Wales with a 3-night stay in the Brecon Beacons to kick off our holiday.
The Brecon Beacons National Park was established in 1957 and covers 519 square miles. It consists of four main areas – The Black Mountain in the west, Fforest Fawr Unesco Geopark, The Central Beacons home to Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in South Wales and The Black Mountains in the east; yes there really is a singular and plural Black Mountain area.
I had organised a packed itinerary to include lots of walking, discovering waterfalls, climbing mountains, visiting pretty towns and villages and exploring ancient Welsh monuments.
We chose to stay at The Plough Inn at Rhosmaen just outside the town of Llandeilo, which is just on the outskirts of the Brecons. I chose this hotel for the standard of accommodation rather than it being the perfect location. We did have to drive back into the National park each day for the activities we wanted to do, however with scenery so spectacular; it was an absolute joy.
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Driving from England to Wales
Driving times will always vary according to traffic and weather conditions and of course the dreaded roadworks that seem to always be on the route you want to use!
We left home at 10 am from Surrey in England and crossed the Severn Bridge into Wales at 2 pm; a total of 4 hours driving. From that point, it took us until around 5 pm until we reached our hotel, with stops to visit Castell Coch (a fail as we hadn’t pre-booked tickets) and at the Black Mountain Quarries (a success because it’s open to all!) So in total from our house to our stay at The Plough Inn took 7 hours.
Keep in mind your driving times to allow for convenience stops and sightseeing stops on route. Pack snacks and water for your journey so you don’t need to stop for a meal.
Top Tip: Want to drive to Wales but don’t own a car? Europcar rent vehicles at reasonable prices and have good ratings.
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Brecon Beacons 3-Day Itinerary including Directions
Please note that even though the driving times between locations may seem long, the scenery is absolutely stunning, so every journey is delightful.
Interactive Map of the Brecon Beacons
Driving for 30 miles into Wales after you have crossed the Severn Bridge from England will bring you to one of Wales fairytale castles. Castell Coch (meaning red castle) is a turreted Gothic revival castle built in Victorian times as an elaborate folly to showcase the wealth and imagination of its owner, the third Marquess of Bute.
Top Tip: If you want to visit Castell Coch make sure to pre-book tickets otherwise like us you may come away disappointed.
Castell Coch to Henryd Falls – 60 minutes
Also known as the waterfall used in the Batman film “The Dark Knight”, this is the tallest waterfall in South Wales with a drop of 90 feet. Henryd Falls is one of several Brecon Beacons waterfalls that can be seen in the area giving it the nickname “Waterfall Country“.
Walking down is quite slippery even with proper boots on, so make sure yours have a good grip. You will hear the intense thundering of the water before you actually see the waterfall. A bonus is that you can walk behind this waterfall which is fun but will get you very wet; bring a change of clothes!
If time is on your side, then you can add a walk from Henryd Falls to Nant Llech across fields, taking in two smaller waterfalls on the route.
Top Tip: A free National Trust car park is by the entrance to the falls in Coelbren, SA10 9PH.
Henryd Falls to Black Mountain Quarries – 30 minutes
Black Mountain Quarries
Our first taste of the enormity of the Brecons was the Black Mountain Quarries which is a large area of abandoned limestone quarries. We drove towards Llangadog on the A4069 on our way to our accommodation in Llandeilo and were stunned at the natural beauty of the landscape.
A brief stop and walk near to the car park allowed us to breathe in the fresh Welsh air and take in the seemingly never-ending views. This was such a great start to our trip, and I would love to return to the Black Mountains and spend longer exploring them.
Red Kite feeding can also be experienced in Llangadog and although we missed the time slots of 2 pm and 3 pm it looks like a fun thing to do in the Brecon Beacons for bird-watchers, photographers and animal lovers.
Black Mountain Quarries to The Plough Inn – 25 minutes
The Plough Inn to Lyn Brianne – 35 minutes.
Lyn Brianne Dam and Reservoir
Lyn Brianne dam and reservoir, just outside the town of Llandewi Brefi, is in a beautiful setting and is an engineering masterpiece. The drive to it through the Welsh country lanes is pretty, but there aren’t any signposts for the reservoir so to make it easy for you here is the postcode Llandovery SA20 0PG.
If you are lucky, you will see the dam in full force spilling water over and down the sluice. On our visit, the water level in the reservoir wasn’t high enough, and so we only got to see the hydroelectric generating station at the foot of the sluice propelling water into the air. Still very impressive and so powerful.
The reservoir is simply stunning, and a 27km walking route starts at the dam and stretches right up to the northern tip of the lake before coming back down. We walked for a few miles but because we had a lot of other things to do in the Brecon Beacons we didn’t venture too far. The short flat walk we did is on a gravel surface so easy to manage for most ability levels. The west side of the walk is a forestry track, and the east side is a road.
Under the reservoir, there are a couple of flooded houses. Before the water level was raised, it was possible to walk to Fannog farmhouse.
Top Tip: Keep a lookout for the roof of the flooded Fannog farmhouse when the water level is low.
Lyn Brianne to Abergwesyn Common – 30 minutes
Leaving Lyn Brianne Dam don’t exit onto the road you arrived on, instead take the road up to your left and get ready for the most breathtaking scenery you could imagine. The road takes you around the rim of the reservoir all the way to Abergwesyn Common. On the way, there are several car parks to enable you to admire the view back across the reservoir or go for one of several Brecon Beacon walks in this area.
The 16,500-acre Abergwesyn Common is visually stunning and was bought with donations from local people and charitable funds in memory of those who have died for the United Kingdom. With a stream rushing through it and far-reaching views from its peaks, it is a fitting tribute to such men and women.
Walking trails take you around the commons; rich in archaeology, from Bronze Age ritual sites to deserted medieval villages. Wherever you walk you’re likely to come across a cairn – a stone circle – or standing stone, evidence of human activity dating back thousands of years.
We stopped and admired the views but saw others walking across the diverse and mesmerising landscape of this area, and we vowed to return and explore it ourselves.
Abergwesyn Common to Llanwrtyd Wells – 20 minutes
Gasping for a coffee, we stopped off in Llanwrtyd Wells – the smallest town in Britain. Caffi Sosban housed in a former bank (check the original vault door downstairs) was our salvation and we sat in the small patio garden overlooking the River Irfon to enjoy our refreshments.
The town itself is home to the world bog snorkelling championships (I kid you not!) but also has a few places to eat and drink if you are looking for something more than a coffee.
Llanwrtyd Wells to Pen Y Fan – 50 minutes
Pen Y Fan
We had pondered on when, if and why we should climb Pen Y Fan – the highest mountain in South Wales and had decided to go for it on our first day in the Brecon Beacons. Pen y Fan sits adjacent to Corn Du, and the twin mountain peaks are known as “Arthur’s Chair” named after the mighty King Arthur of the sword in the stone fame. Some of the best walks in the Brecon Beacons can be found around this summit.
We arrived at the Pont ar Daf car park in the early afternoon. The sun was shining, and the place was packed but before we had time to change our minds I had laced up my trainers (because my walking boots had literally just fallen apart!) and we set off to tackle this mighty mountain.
Want to know how we got on and whether this climb/walk/hike is right for you? Check out my post all about Pen Y Fan to help you make your decision. All I can tell you is it is not as easy as the guidebooks would have you believe!
Pen y Fan and Corn Du form part of the sixteen peaks situated on The Beacons Way; a 159km walking route passing through the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Top Tip: Explore Pen Y Fan in the afternoon; it will still be busy but not as crowded as in the morning.
Pen Y Fan to The Plough Inn – 45 minutes
The Plough Inn to Llandeilo – 5 minutes
Llandeilo is a pretty Welsh town with pastel-coloured houses and cute independent shops, and we wanted to check it out as we were only staying down the road. Unfortunately, as it was a Sunday, we found everything was shut apart from the cafe which seemed to have attracted the entire town!
Nevertheless, we had a wander down to the stone bridge that crosses the River Towy, which gave us a great vantage point to look back at the colourful terraced houses that line the main street. On a weekday you will find shops with cute names such as The Cuckoo’s Nest and The Lighthouse selling quality local crafts and souvenirs. And not forgetting Ginhaus Deli selling all things gin related and you’ve guessed it some rather lovely delicatessen items.
The chic Cawdor Hotel, set in a 17th-century coaching inn is on the high street and is a 10-minute walk from Llandeilo train station (providing regional rail services). A great place to stay if you aren’t arriving by car. We ate dinner here on our last night, and it was delicious.
Top Tip: On the way out of Llandeilo grab a coffee at The Hangout, strangely you will find it on an industrial estate but believe me the coffee is really good.
Llandeilo to Carreg Cennen Castle – 13 minutes
Carreg Cennen Castle
Romantic, mystical and downright beautiful are the adjectives I would use to describe Carreg Cennen castle. Sitting 300ft above the River Cennen these 13th-century castle ruins have 360-degree views across the Welsh countryside and in my opinion, is one of the best places to visit on a trip to the Brecon Beacons.
The quaint gift shop is where you purchase an entry ticket – and maybe a welsh cake and a cup of tea! – and then it’s off up the track that leads to the castle. We loved the fact that we arrived just as it was opening and so had the place to ourselves. The sun was shining, and the dew on grass sparkled bringing Carreg Cennen alive.
The castle is not very big, and so you will probably only spend about 30 minutes there but should you decide to explore the surrounding countryside several walks start at the castle.
Top Tip: Carreg Cennen Castle is one of the best dark skies spots in Wales. If you want to stargaze, then this is the place to do it.
Carreg Cennen Castle to Llanddeusant – 30 minutes
One thing you will notice as you drive around the Brecons are all the sheep, and at last count (not by me!) there were 9.53 million sheep in Wales! There is even a company that offers sheep trekking days.
We passed through LLandeusant as we drove through the Black Mountains and couldn’t believe how many there were. The last time I had seen this many sheep was in New Zealand! The long straight road that runs through Llanddeusant seemed to be a magnet for cyclists as we passed quite a few on our way. A lovely cycle route to take through such magnificent countryside.
Llanddeusant to Usk Reservoir – 30 minutes
A more understated reservoir than Lyn Brianne, the 280 acre Usk Reservoir is good for a quick pit-stop through the Brecons, It is in a remote area surrounded by forest, and a 9km loop trail allows walkers and cyclists to explore more of it via forest tracks and footpaths. The reservoir is one of the best still water trout fisheries in Wales and fishing can be done with a permit.
Top Tip: If you have a dog with you, this is a great place for a dog-friendly walk.
Usk Reservoir to Brecon canal – 40 minutes
Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal
The Mon and Brec canal as its fondly known runs 33 miles through the Brecon Beacons. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Brecon, starting in the main town and following a course until it reaches Pontypool. Many visitors to Wales enjoy week-long boating holidays starting at one end of the canal and finishing at the other; a leisurely way of enjoying the beautiful countryside, small villages and welcoming pubs.
Its original use was to work alongside a network of tramways and/or railroads to bring coal and iron to the main Welsh towns. These tracks are long gone, and the canal is now used for pleasure crafts rather than industrial barges. It is also a popular place to walk, which is why we decided to check it out.
The walk starts at the canal bowl beside Brecon Theatre; a good place to grab refreshments and use the facilities. Along the way, information boards give the visitor an insight into the history of the canal and the important role it played in this area.
We walked for around 30 minutes and then turned back and returned. I was a little disappointed it wasn’t a quiet walk due to its proximity to the main road, but I am glad we gave it a go. In Autumn, when the leaves are changing colour, it is meant to be one of the most beautiful walks in Wales.
Top Tip: Dragonfly day cruises will take you on a scenic trip along the canal
Brecon Canal to Llangorse Lake – 15 minutes
Llangorse Lake was high on my list of places to visit in the Brecon Beacons and as it turned out, one of my favourites. It is the largest natural lake in South Wales and has been here since the last Ice Age.
In addition to that, there are plenty of things to do at Llangorse Lake including hiring rowing boats, SUP’s and kayaks, to name a few and it also has the only surviving crannog in Wales. Wondering what a crannog is? Just imagine Hagrid’s hut from Harry Potter but on its own island in the water! To explain it further a crannog was a type of ancient lake dwelling found throughout Wales, Scotland and Ireland built out in the water as a defensive dwelling.
A dedicated visitor centre tells the story of King Arthur and how the fabled sword was thrown back to the “Lady of the Lake”. Local legend suggests the lake was at Llangorse.
Llangorse Lake also has a lakeside walk which is the reason for our visit. There are several online maps to show you the route, but we found them to be hard to follow, at one point they took us across a farm which we soon found out was not the correct way!
The Llangorse Lake walk isn’t a loop but is extremely lovely and takes you across fields, beside the lake at points and finishes at the Victorian church of St Gastyn, famous for its gothic revival architecture. Once you have spent some time at the church retrace your steps back to the start of the walk.
Top Tip: Wear good walking boots as parts of the route can be boggy after rainfall.
Llangorse Lake to The Plough Inn – 60 minutes
We checked out after our 3-nights in the Brecon Beacons and started our drive to Pembrokeshire for the second leg of our holiday in Wales. We made a few stops on the way, but Talley Abbey was the last one in the Brecon Beacons.
The Plough Inn to Talley Abbey – 12 minutes.
The 12th century Talley Abbey is famed for being the only abbey in Wales for Premonstratensians monks; known as the ‘White Canons’ from the colour of their habit.
The Brecon Beacons weather was dreary on our last morning but somehow added an ethereal atmosphere to this hallowed spot. The impressive church tower stood out proud amongst the ruins, and a plan shows what the abbey would have looked like when it was in use.
Do take the time to visit it on your way out of Llandeilo as it is quite a sight (especially if you like religious monuments) and should you fancy a walk the Talley Woods are opposite with 2km and 4km trails to follow.
Leaving the sleepy village of Talley, we headed off for 7-nights in Pembrokeshire for the next part of our road-trip adventure, totally excited and looking forward to experiencing all the best things that Pembrokeshire could offer!
These are just a few of the things you can do in the Brecon Beacons, and after you have been once, I am sure that you will want to return again and again; I have already booked up for next year! It is a walkers paradise and one of the best places in Wales for a 3-Night Staycation.
If you love chasing waterfalls, enjoy visually stunning landscapes and want to explore the history of Wales, then this will be a perfect destination for you.
Other fun things to do in the Brecon Beacons include:
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